Charity work is too important to keep it in the shadows, but marketing without a strategy is a recipe for disaster. In this guide, we explain in simple terms how a beginner can construct a charity marketing strategy step-by-step.
The good intentions that motivate charity staff can make it harder for them to get results. Those who truly believe in altruism are often uncomfortable with the field of promotion, viewing it as the domain of self-serving entrepreneurs willing to lie and obfuscate in pursuit of profit.
It’s vital to overcome this discomfort. After all, marketing isn’t innately cynical or selfish. What matters is what you’re promoting and why — and if you’re certain that your charitable cause is a worthy one, then doing what you can to further it through figuring out how to motivate people to donate is a noble act.
If you’re going to put time and effort into marketing, though, you need to ensure that it’s worthwhile — and that means creating a comprehensive charity marketing strategy before you even begin. In this guide, we’ll cover how you can create such a strategy, explaining the basics before getting into clear steps for you to follow. Let’s get started.
What does a marketing strategy involve?
If you’ve never created a marketing strategy before, you might wonder what exactly it involves. Well, it’s simple enough. A marketing strategy is a formal document that details the purpose, structure and ingredients of all the marketing work you intend to carry out. This document can cover a specific period of time (the coming year, for instance) or be open-ended.
Once you have your strategy ready to go, you can use it whenever useful. You can distribute it internally to ensure that everyone on the team knows what direction they’re going in. When you work with outside agencies (common for charities), you can share it with your contacts so they can shape their workloads accordingly. In either case, it fits neatly alongside brand guidelines.
Why is it necessary to have a charity marketing strategy?
Marketing as an overall discipline requires consistent effort to be effective. When banner ads work, for instance, it’s often after the interested parties have seen them numerous times and let them sink in. Similarly, brands develop their popular images through repetition and breadth of distribution. A marketing message seen just once won’t stick.
When you focus on charities, this point becomes even more significant. Marketing a product can get results relatively quickly if it’s shiny and new, but marketing a cause is a more complex and slow-burning effort. Most people walk around with blinders on, concentrating on themselves, and it’s only through patient application that charities can reach them.
Furthermore, the average charity has a strict budget. Because it isn’t built around profitability and puts most of its money into the cause (or causes) it supports, it can’t go through the marketing loop that regular businesses benefit from (do some marketing, make more sales, put some of the profits into doing more marketing, make more sales, and repeat). It needs to be extremely precise with its spending — and that precision demands a marketing strategy.
How to write a winning charity marketing strategy
The first thing you need to do is decide where you’re going to compose your strategy — in other words, using which platform or piece of software. It’s best to go with something that allows easy collaboration so you can get various people involved. For this reason, we suggest using your preferred cloud-based document software (most likely Google Docs or Microsoft Word).
A common mistake is putting too much thought into presentation — worrying about how a marketing strategy looks. This is an indulgence that highly-profitable businesses can justify, but not one that a charity can afford. Focus on the content — the steps that we’re about to go through — and forget about the font you’re using or how the tables look.
When you’ve chosen your platform and ring-fenced enough time to complete the project, you can create your charity marketing strategy by running through the following steps:
Set some clear and trackable objectives
Obviously the ultimate goal of your marketing plan is to raise more money for your charity, but you need more trackable objectives to aim for. You might, for example, set an objective of reaching a certain number of social media followers, earning an endorsement from a relevant influencer, or boosting your weekly website visits by a particular percentage.
Metrics relevant to SEO are always worth aiming for. You can have objectives pertaining to money (raising a set amount by a particular time), but they’re more useful for motivating donation drives than they are for internal use.
Prioritising the work that spreads your messages — more on those later — needs to be the core focus. And setting objectives that are trackable is essential for steering your campaign, since there’s little use in pursuing targets if you can’t be sure when you’ve achieved them.
Clearly outline your target audience
With your objectives decided, you must turn your attention to the people you’re trying to reach.
No charity has universal appeal when it comes to inspiring action: you may have near-universal approval, but most people who approve of charities will never do anything to support them (aside, perhaps, from providing the occasional retweet).
Instead of putting time into marketing your charity to those people, you should think carefully about which people are the most likely to actually get involved. Trawl through your set of repeat contributors — particularly those who donate to you on a regular basis. While some may be donating anonymously, there will be others you can identify, and this will give you the chance to engage with them to figure out why they chose to help you.
This is where you have an advantage over a regular marketer. When you approach a contributor with some questions, there’s an excellent chance they’ll want to help you. The more they help you figure out what makes certain types of people more likely to donate, the more you can market to those people — and the more money you’ll raise for a cause they clearly believe in.
Using the feedback they provide, you can narrow down the pool of prospective supporters to target with your marketing materials. You may find interesting correlations: for instance, if your charity seeks to protect dogs, you might find that your message is viewed very positively by people who’ve worked in care or served in the military (owing respectively to the existence of guide dogs and military dogs). This can help you make your promotional work more impactful.
Identify your headline message(s)
Depending on how long your charity has been in operation, you might already have some slogans and taglines, or you might be working with a clean slate. Either way, you should consider this an opportunity to rethink how your charity presents itself. Every charity marketing campaign must have a central message that’s powerful and easy to understand. What’s yours?
Let’s use the example of a dog charity again to consider some approaches.
You could take the comedy route in an effort to prompt donations through reminding people of how fun dogs are. Perhaps something like “Every dog deserves a woof over its head” could work there. If you think of the classic choice of the carrot or the stick, this is the carrot.
For the stick, you could tweak the phrasing to focus on the negative you’re trying to avoid. “We call dogs our best friends, yet they make up almost 65% of all abused animals.” While you’ll segue that into talking about how we can work together to change that, the point of that headline is to evoke feelings of guilt and shame.
In the end, effective charity marketing will almost always come down to the use of one of those two extremes: concentrating on the wonderful future you’re trying to build, or highlighting the nightmares of the present and past. If you can come up with a suitable headline to serve as your foundation, it will prove enormously useful.
Choose the most suitable channels
With a charity-sized budget, you won’t be able to saturate every viable marketing channel, which means you’ll need to be discerning. Which channels are the most likely to prove effective for the message you’re trying to get across?
Charity messages tend to get the most purchase when they can include emotionally-impactful imagery, so it’s generally best to opt for platforms that support this — thankfully, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook all allow images and videos.
Using your narrowed-down audience, get an idea of where they prefer to spend their time online. If most of your preferred demographics use Facebook but not Twitter, for instance, you should invest your social media efforts in the former. At this point, you can take any social media targets you identified in the first step and tweak them to fit your selected platform or platforms.
Though much of your focus will go towards content marketing (which we’ll look at next), remember that there’s also a lot of value in general PR work: engaging with potential donors, agreeing promotional arrangements with supportive businesses, and networking with relevant influencers and compatible charities alike. This means that your comfort with a platform — and the comfort of your team overall — will significantly affect how well it can work for you.
Plan your content output
At this stage in the process, you’ll have figured out the core of how you’re going to approach your marketing — which means it’s time to get into the vital matter of how you’re going to produce your marketing content. With regularity and consistency being necessary components, you need to comprehensively plan what content you need and how you’re going to produce it.
Set out your content formats
You could create articles, blog posts, infographics, animated videos, live-action videos, audio ads, podcasts, or even press releases — and that isn’t an exhaustive list. There are six factors that go into choosing among these options:
- The ideas you have. Creativity comes and goes, so you’ll always be at its mercy. If you have a fantastic idea for a promotional video, then all these other factors are much less significant: one outstanding piece of content could be enough for a breakthrough.
- The people you’re targeting. How do your target demographics consume content? If there are particular formats they’re more likely to encounter, you’ll get a much better return on your investment by prioritising those formats (assuming that suits your ideas).
- The skills of your team. Outsourcing is always an option, but generating content internally is so often better because it allows you to let your passion shine through. If your team has some strong writers but no graphic designers, then it won’t make much sense to focus on infographics (or you could write the copy and outsource the imagery).
- The production costs. Every content format will rack up different costs. Live-action video can need props, location scouting, filming equipment, etc. Good animated video needs expertise and time, two expensive things. Written content is relatively cheap to create, but it isn’t as showy as other formats and can have less effect.
- The time you can commit. Everything you create that’s worthwhile will need further time and effort put into it before it’s ready. Content must be proofread and tweaked, video must be edited and mastered, and even podcasts must be trimmed.
- The ROI you need. Note that this isn’t just about immediate impact (which makes eye-catching formats like video seem so appealing). You need to think about the entire lifetime of each piece of content. Depending on how it’s done, a video can feel extremely dated after a short time, whereas a well-written guide to a topic (if updated on occasion) can remain a trustworthy resource for years to come.
You can’t use every type of content effectively, so aim to select three at most. You can always add more types down the line if you get great results. That’s the beauty of your marketing strategy: you’ll revise it over time so it keeps getting better.
Create a speculative schedule
While there’s a lot of value in leaving some flexibility in your content schedule, most of it should be figured out well ahead of time.
This will allow you to optimise the overall impact of your message. For example, if you heavily promote a message one month, go quiet for two more months, then return to it; it’ll have less impact than if you run it for consecutive months.
If you’ve decided to focus on blog posts and videos about the issues you’re fighting for, figure out how they’re going to fit in the year ahead: how often you’ll release new content (this will depend on how quickly you can produce it), and how each piece will fit into the context of the time of year and the pieces preceding and following it.
Carrying on with the dog charity example, you could make all your content for one month about dog hygiene, producing blog posts explaining why it matters so much that dog owners keep them groomed and coupling them with video tutorials showing how to do various vital things. The videos can then be embedded in the posts, enhancing their value.
This also allows you to take advantage of predictable events and seasonal changes. Think about how Christmas inevitably leads to the adoption of many dogs (usually presented as gifts to children) — that interest makes it the perfect time to offer relevant advice and prompt new dog owners to get involved in charitable efforts.
Commit to consistent analysis
Remember that your strategy isn’t some set-in-stone process that must be followed in exact detail for the foreseeable future. You can’t yet know how well you’ve gauged your target audience, how well you’ll take to your chosen content types, or how capably you’ll marshal your existing resources to meet your speculative deadlines. It all remains to be seen.
Due to this, your strategy requires a commitment to consistent analysis: a clear statement of how often you’ll review the results and make changes accordingly. You could hold a meeting every month, or even every two weeks. It depends on how much you’re investing in your campaign. The bigger the budget, the more carefully you need to monitor it.
Assign key responsibilities
Here, the heart of your charity marketing strategy is complete, so it’s time to wrap it up. This comes down to the allocation of responsibility. Who’ll be in charge of ensuring that all the actions taken fall in line with the document? Who’ll amend it when results show that some elements need to be tweaked? Who’ll handle every type of content on the schedule?
It’s all too possible to put a lot of work into the creation of a great strategy then see it go almost unused because no one knows who’s in charge of deploying it.
Make it abundantly clear who’s running the project, when it needs to get underway, and how they’ll need to report on progress — and give them the authority to make full use of the team’s resources.
There you have it: step-by-step instructions on how to write a campaign marketing strategy, geared towards beginners. Knowing roughly what you need to do won’t somehow make it easy, but it will help you navigate through the process ahead of you — and if you can find the time to get it done, it might well prove transformative.